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Essay on Religion In Canterbury Tales

Medieval England literature all seem to follow a basic set of ideas. Although many of the plays and tales we have read so far are different in plotlines, they all possess a certain set of ideas and focus on certain concepts. In each piece of literature, not only is God mentioned, but religion almost always is a main issue in the plot. Along with holiness and religion, virtues and chivalry are also common in this type of literature, whether it be how the characters have good virtues or the characters’ lack of them.

During the age of Medieval England, religion was an important (and large) part of society. This is expressed in most literature, as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. In this tale God and religious allusions appear multiple times, from when Sir Gawain takes his leave, “and let God be my guide… ” to when he is lost and called out “Father, hear me, and Lady Mary, our mother most mild… ” (Armitage 549,753-754). In this particular tale, all of the best knights were close to God and extremely religious, showing the importance of religion to society at the time.

This is particularly seen when discussing the pentangle painted on Sir Gawain’s shield. It is said that the knight’s “faith was founded in the five wounds Christ received on the cross”, and since this symbol is seen as noble it can be understood that those who are close in their faith or noble (Armitage 642-643). Although religion is of main importance throughout these writings, how it is perceived is not necessarily the same. In Sir Gawain, religion is important to one’s character but in Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, it is seen as hypocritical, or at least those of religious importance.

In The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer expresses his displeasure with the church by describing certain members in hypocritical terms. He declares a monk he is travelling with to be of “a fair for the maistrye” but then spends the rest of the description in demonstrating how the monk is not really of the highest value (Chaucer 165). The monk both hunts and has wealth, things a monk should not have or be doing and is to show that the church was filled with people abusing their power since religion was so important at the time and they could get away with it.

In the play Everyman religion (God to be precise) had a larger role, but also a different underlying message. Unlike Sir Gawain and The Canterbury Tales, the religious part of the play is more about what values in life and what God wants from “Everyman”. The play is about how society should focus more on being religious and good instead of committing the “seven deadly sins damnable” (36). Although the message is to focus on good deeds in one’s lifetime, it comes off somewhat hypocritical, but differently than in Chaucer’s writings.

Instead its focus is on what religious steps should be taken to be forgiven by God, what deeds one should focus on in life, but also shows how simple and easy it is for one to be forgiven at the very end of a lifetime. Although each different story has a different take on religion, it is undeniably an important aspect of Medieval England literature. In most stories and plays during the time though, the theme of virtues and their importance is not only consistent, but also follows the same basic principles. Being virtuous and noble was imperative at the time, and every heroic main character had to prove how chivalrous they were.

Every noble knight had to have the most impeccable manners and be labeled as having almost every decent virtue imaginable. When describing Milun in Marie De France’s lais Milun, he is “generous and strong, courteous and proud” (France 14). This is important because when first describing the main character she does not focus on performance or looks but instead his virtues, generous and courteous. In Sir Gawain, when discussing Camelot and the Round Table, it is stated that “the most chivalrous and courteous knights” were there, as though to say that this was where only the best people were (Armitage 51).

Even simple lines such as “but Arthur would not eat until all were served. ” Show the importance of being respectable at the time (Armitage 85). Chaucer, although mainly focusing on the bad qualities of the pilgrims in the General Prologue, expressed the importance of worthy virtues at the time. He had taken the time to define his dislikes for his fellow travelers, and to show the hypocrisy of certain people as well as their misguided qualities.

His use of the Knight as an example of correct morality,”… e loved chivalry, trouthe and honour, freedom and curteisye” proves the importance of being courteous at the time (Chaucer 45-46). The Medieval Ages were well known for its chivalrous knights, and for the importance of religion to the people at the time. This can be reflected in the Medieval England writings as well since almost every story, tale, or play seems to have religion and chivalry/morality as an underlying aspect, if not the main theme.

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